Intergenerational Worship During COVID19

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Phased re-entry has begun by now and many churches are already rolling out phase 1 and perhaps even phase 2. According to most guidelines, children’s Sunday school is feasible for phase 3 and beyond. If you have read the most recent CDC guidelines for schools, however, you will quickly realize the implications for children’s Sunday school programs are significant. Re-entry in Sunday school during phase 3 for children would include masks on kids, no eating, no worship, no large group, no sharing toys, no touching, staggered drop-off and pick-up, temperature taking of volunteers, and probably having to recruit an entirely new list of volunteers willing to work in this manner.

When discussing this kind of re-entry, the cry I have heard from many children’s ministry leaders can be summed up as, “But . . . how?”

Children’s Ministry leaders have worked tirelessly these last three months to ensure discipleship efforts do not stop. They have adjusted curriculum, altered their schedules, become masters of technology and online conferences, and sent care packages, all the while caring for their own families and schooling-at-home their own kids.

In all honesty, leaders are already burning out from the sprint we just ran, and now, looking toward the marathon ahead of us, considering how to hold Sunday school for children while minimizing risk seems to be a huge concern.

While covid19 is still a risk, I might temporarily suggest the following for churches to consider:

1. Hire a Director of Online Ministry, or ask each ministry director to get an Online Ministry Coordinator for their teams. Hybrid ministry, or ministry both in person and online, may be with us for months, which means we will need someone tasked with transferring our vision and goals to an online community. See more on hybrid ministry here.

2. Consider holding off on re-opening Sunday school for children until the threat of covid19 is behind us. Instead, temporarily, welcome intergenerational worship, with children in the pews with their parents. Intergenerational worship intentionally helps to shift discipleship efforts to parents, who are uniquely called to do so, and allows the church to come alongside parents in the process.

Proposing a temporary pause on Sunday school is an opportunity for churches to equip parents, not just inform them. Holding off on Sunday school also does not remove family ministry pastors; in fact, their job will be significant in shifting the culture and resourcing parents.

If your church has always had children out of the service until communion, it might be hard to imagine how this will go. I will suggest it will go well, if a few things are considered beforehand.

Things to consider before worship:

• Those leading from the platform should be careful with their words when discussing intergenerational worship. The language chosen should come from Scripture (see Deut 6, Ps 78, Mark 10, 1 Cor 12 for passages about passing on the faith and valuing all members of the Body of Christ) and should reflect the fact that we “get to” worship together, rather than “have to.”

• If you have not already, begin building teams that utilize children in all aspects of Sunday morning worship. Have children acolyting, reading Scripture, ushering, running slides, and participating in leading music. Being asked to lead is a powerful way to engage, and it will communicate the value of children to the church.

• Depending on your space, it may make sense to encourage families with little ones to praygroundsit near the front so they can see. Seeing what is happening will keep them engaged. Consider re-purposing space for a ‘prayground’ for little ones to stretch as they participate.

• Have a leader teach families, both parents and children, about the structure of our Anglican worship. Let me know if you’d like more resources on this for adults and children.

• Encourage families to prepare for worship together: have every member of the family bring their Bible and consider bringing journals. Introducing families to Praying in Color, a powerful way to help them focus during prayer, or prayer labyrinths, ahead of time can help.

• Before worship on Sunday, send home links to the music that is planned. Families can listen during the week, or in the car on the way, preparing them to participate with familiarity. Consider sending along discussion prompts for some of the songs that might connect with the reading/sermon well.

• It may be helpful to send out a listening prompt ahead of Sunday morning to help families engage. An example might be a pondering question about the sermon, or if they notice a change in liturgical colors, or anything else that might encourage them to wonder about it through the service.

Things to help families during worship:

• Those leading from the platform should use transitional phrases between worship elements that engage listeners and draw attention to the experiential aspects of what we are doing, as well as the reason why.

• Offer activity sheets that are directly connected to that particular week’s message or season. Prepare ahead and use key words from the reading or message to make crossword puzzles or searches, to offer before/after drawings of the parable shared, or to enable children to color about how the music made them feel. Create an “I Spy” list for families based on things they’d find in your sanctuary, or an “I Hear” list for things usually spoken, or sung (“How many times do you hear ‘Holy Spirit’ today?”). The key is to engage them each week with what is happening around them, not just entertain them to keep them quiet.

• Teach parents some active engagement strategies for the whole family. An example might be Tally Marks – everyone makes a list of words they expect to hear in the sermon and write tallies when they hear them. Look for patterns on the way home. Another example might be Questions– everyone makes a list of questions and answers from the service. On the way home, ask each other the questions. The person with the most correct picks where to eat lunch!

• Talk to parents about the importance of modeling appropriate behavior in church. Kids will follow their parents’ leading. Encourage parents to bring their Bibles, to take notes, and join in singing. If children see parents participating, they will participate, too.

• The person giving the sermon should consider using more visual images and imagination in their sermons. Additionally, consider giving some sort of a discussion question that is appropriate for all ages. Remember that the best way for anyone to learn is to connect what they are learning to their past experiences. Talking over that connection will solidify understanding and application.

Things to consider after worship:
• This is the smallest section, but what happens after worship might be the most important aspect of equipping parents. The church should follow up during the week somehow, making connections with families. Consider offering a Q/A for households following the sermon, being open to questions from children. Or allow families to send in questions about the sermon and then take time to answer them and distribute those answers through social media or a newsletter.

• Families should be taught how to circle back to whatever was given as prompts. Discussion questions, tally marks, questions game, listening prompts, I Spy, I Hear, etc., are helpful but shift to powerful if the parents understand the importance of discussing what they learned afterwards. One of the best ways to do this is to model it with them first, then they can continue it later.

Hybrid ministry will most likely be with us for months. All of us are navigating this pandemic with only our best guess as to what should be done. Encouraging intergenerational worship in the pews, for now, might alleviate significant pressure on the team and reduce risk, while shifting the joy of discipleship to the parents. This shift strengthens the whole church and helps ensure the faith is passed on to the next generation.